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Science

Annual BigBrotherAwards draw attention to privacy issues

Data protection and privacy are big topics in Germany today, but they weren't always. The organizers of the BigBrotherAwards like to think they had something to do with that.

The BigBrotherAward logo

These awards have been handed out annually since 2000

Late last week, this year's BigBrotherAwards were handed out to organizations, businesses and individuals deemed to be undermining privacy and data protection using technology and information.

The annual awards are bestowed by FoeBuD e.V., a German non-profit activist organization that was first formed in 1987 to protect civil rights and data security. The BigBrotherAwards include categories such as "Workplace," "Politics" and "Consumer Protection."

This year a negative award was handed out to Facebook under the category of Communications for "systematically poking its nose into people and their relationships, behind the friendly facade of an ostensibly free service," according to FoeBuD's description of the award.

According to the BigBrotherAwards website, the online social media platform is likened to a gated community "sprawling across the net in which people are monitored every step of the way. It is governed by the whims of a corporation that is earning billions with systematic privacy violations."

Other "winners" included the German auto manufacturer Daimler, for requiring blood tests of its employees, a practice FoeBud compared to vampirism, and Apple's Munich branch, which the award accused of "taking their customers hostage by way of expensive hardware and subsequently blackmailing them into accepting a questionable privacy policy."

A shift in public opinion

Facebook

Facebook was lambasted for its alleged privacy abuses

A separate statement from FoeBuD said the BigBrotherAwards should get the credit for making privacy infractions a topic of public furor, which they often are in Germany.

"In the 1990s, privacy and data protection were not issues that would stir many people from their easy chairs," the statement said. But since launching the faux-awards in 2000, FoeBuD reckons they've made their share of public relations coups, though they often remain out of the limelight.

BigBrotherAward winners often react "with the well-known combined response: ignore, deny, talk down," according to the activists. "Politicians have had a lot of practice – and so have company PR departments."

But their greatest achievement has been in bringing the offenders into the public forum, FoeBuD said.

"Our most important success is the difference we made in people's minds. Data protection and privacy is now an issue at the heart of society."

Author: Stuart Tiffen
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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